Since I've still been couch-bound for the last couple weeks, I've watched a lot more movies than I normally would. I watched a lot of crappy movies, but did find a few diamonds in the rough. Here's some of the gems I caught:

The Hurt Locker

4.5 of 5 Stars
4.5 of 5 Stars

"Kathryn Bigelow directs this gripping drama (nominated for nine Oscars) following one of the U.S. Army's elite EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) teams operating in the ferocious war zone of Iraq. As the squad identifies and dismantles improvised explosive devices and other bombs, they must also contend with the frayed nerves and internal conflicts that arise from living in constant peril. Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Guy Pearce star."

An incredibly powerful film that came at me from a totally unexpected direction. The whole movie felt like one long, tense shot. The characters seemed a lot more "human" than many of the more recent war-time movies I've seen; the EOD crew is composed of individuals just looking to do their job safely and efficiently so they and the people they're trying to help (U.S. soldiers and Iraqis alike) can make it through another day safely. The film focuses less on the action the team sees while on tour (although there is certainly plenty of that), and more on the emotional and physical interactions of the  people affected by the conflicts that take place every day. Surprisingly, most of the big-named actors have very small roles in this film, and the lesser-knowns standing in the spotlight do an excellent job of portraying troubled and entirely-too-real human beings. The end result is a fascinating and gut-wrenching look into the lives of people who just happen to be soldiers, for better or for worse.

Paranormal Activity

3.5 of 5 Stars
3.5 of 5 Stars

"When Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) fear their San Diego, Calif., home may be haunted by a demonic presence, Micah sets up a video camera to document all the jaw-dropping, hair-raising action over a series of several nights in fall 2006. The paranormal occurrences increase in frequency and significance, leaving Katie more and more distraught — and determined to put an end to the terror."

I'm not usually a fan of the "handycam film" – you know, the shaky, intentionally "amateurish" handheld camera that "adds" to the action or suspense of the movie – but it worked pretty well for this film. Reminded me a lot of how effective it was in The Blair Witch Project. There were definitely some creepy moments to this flick. In fact, after it finished, my wife and I had to immediately start another movie because we didn't want to go to bed with the images the director leaves in your head at the end of the film. There were some points where I found myself wishing the pace of the movie would pick up a little, and I questioned the likelihood of the actions of the main characters at several points during the movie (is there one of these movies where you don't?), but overall, it was a pretty well-built film that will leave you wondering whether there really is something to all this paranormal activity stuff.

Zombieland

4 of 5 Stars
4 of 5 Stars

"An easily spooked guy, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), joins forces with wild man Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) to fight for survival in a world virtually taken over by freakish zombies. As they destroy scores of the undead, they meet up with two other survivors, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone), and journey to a supposedly safe abandoned amusement park. Ruben Fleischer directs this horror romp."

This movie was easily the most funny and most gory movie I've seen in a while. Think Superbad meets 28 Days Later. Ditching traditional zombie-flick traditions from the very start, this film is a slaughter-fest of semi-witless zombies by the "last survivors in the world". Filled with subtle, sarcastic, and sometimes flat-out slapstick humor including some very hilarious one-liners, this film kept me smiling and laughing through just about every scene. Bill Murray joins in on the fun late in the movie as himself and steals the show in at least a couple scenes.

City of Ember

3 of 5 Stars
3 of 5 Stars

"Bill Murray and Tim Robbins head the cast in this sci-fi fantasy set in Ember, a city illuminated only by artificial light. When the town's generator begins to fail, two teens (Harry Treadaway and Saoirse Ronan) race to save Ember's citizens from darkness by solving an old mystery. Martin Landau, Toby Jones and Mary Kay Place also star in this eye-popping metaphorical tale based on Jeanne Duprau's best-selling novel."

Definitely meant for kids, this movie is a little too trite for adults to really enjoy.  In spite of that, City of Ember is a beautifully visualized film, and the premise is entertaining enough to keep you watching to see how it turns out.  I suspect the novel is excellent and may pick it up so I can find out if it is as good a piece of YA fiction as I suspect it is.  Bill Murray does an excellent job as the city's mayor, but look out for Saoirse Ronan (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for Atonement) – I suspect she's going to be tearing her way through Hollywood in a couple more years, based on what I saw in this film.

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